Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:3).
Doubt and Rock-Solid Faith
Early in my college years, I worried about God’s existence. No, more precisely, I worried over whether I was crazy to believe so deeply in God.
After all, at the high-brow liberal arts college I attended, urbane skepticism and eye-rolling at God-talk seemed the norm. Neither could I make myself at home with evangelical peers who seemed too smugly self-assured in the face of religious doubt.
Despite strong faith, I respected religious doubt – not the shallow skepticism of those who sought to fit in with the sophisticated crowd, but the doubt of those who raised questions out of their suffering and compassion.
I admired (still do) the father of the epileptic boy who pled with Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” as his son quaked and writhed (Mark 9:24). He spoke for me.
Not despite but because of my faith, I could face the same kind of belief and unbelief in myself. For more than mere belief, faith is engagement in a trusting relationship. As in any intimate relationship, I could doubt what I believe about my beloved and still believe in my beloved. I could face and confess my doubts with a paradoxical trust that God listens and guides me home.
Philosophy and the Witness of Suffering
Just as paradoxically, respect for doubt followed from obedience. For Jesus invites us to join him in radical compassion. How can I respond with compassion to the unbeliever unless I listen with respect to her doubts?
In my philosophy studies, I wrestled with great atheists like Freud, Nietzche, and Marx, but their arguments did not affect me like those of ordinary people in pain. Conversely, the most convincing case for God came from people I met who suffered loss of loved ones, employment, reputation, health, and even sanity and still found themselves touched by God in the process.
Philosophical studies shed light on why suffering witnesses best. Kierkegaard taught me that “purity of heart is to will one thing.” The pure heart sets aside desires for substitutes and seeks first the kingdom of God. We see God after clearing away obstructions.
Those who suffer faithfully seize the occasion to let go of things that ultimately don’t matter, that get in the way of the heart’s deepest desire to see God.
Philosophy also taught me to observe carefully the limits of reason, especially in spiritual matters. We know the God beyond comprehension not by conception but by perception. God opens the eyes of those who wait and seek God’s face.
Carl Jung once answered an interviewer’s inquiry whether he believed in God, “I do not need to believe. I know!” Anyone vaguely familiar with Jung knows he did not mean he has blind faith. He meant that in his compassion for psychiatric patients and openness to the mystery of God, he knew God through experience.
Jung helped moderns like me regain an appreciation for fearless inward searching and naming our demons and shadows. In traditional terms, this amounts to confession and repentance without shame, confident that God listens and loves, eager to forgive and engage. That confidence kept my faith rock-solid through the doubts of college and the exigencies of life.
No proud thinker or orator bears witness to God better than a humble and contrite soul. And nothing assures me of the sanity of my faith like the vision that comes when that humble and contrite soul is me.